Second Mile

“…and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well” (Matthew 5:40) is an example by Jesus of non-violent active protest against unjust legal and economic systems then and now. You can read more about it in Walter Wink’s Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way.

“….and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” (Matthew 5:41). I have seen this statement abused by church leaders who tell a person to go back for more abuse. How is that interpretation and advice even possible? How might we help someone suffering abuse to find the best way to resist an evildoer (fight, flight, a third way….)?

I have forced this phrase into a sermon on stewardship—Second Mile Giving: donate more. Not necessarily bad advice—just an inappropriate use of the metaphor. 

This is a great example for reading the Bible today through the lens of an ancient world. “If anyone forces you to go one mile…” would be abundantly clear to all hearers that day. ANYONE means any member of the Imperial Roman Army who could FORCE any resident to carry his 60 pound pack one mile. It was a privilege to the soldier; it was an humiliating abuse of power to the peasant. 

Roman law had a limitation: a soldier could only force someone to carry his pack one mile. You didn’t want to take up a field worker’s whole day—one mile on your back, one mile back, and back to work. There were severe consequences for forcing a carrier past a mile marker on a Roman road. 

To “go also the second mile” upsets the system of power in non-violent protest. By being more helpful, you force the soldier to chase you down the road, begging you to stop before he gets in trouble with his superiors. I now imagine those listening then laughing with joy at this image of transformation of power.

What is your experience of powerful humiliation? How have you been taught to interpret these words of Jesus?  Where are opportunities for your transformation now?

Turn the other cheek

Soon after a slap on the LEFT cheek, the Academy tweeted it “does not condone violence of any form.” I thought: “While our industry does not condone violence, we make billions portraying it.”

Two thousand years ago my teacher spoke of a slap to the RIGHT cheek: “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Matthew 5:39). In 2003, Walter Wink (whose lamp glows on my bookshelf) wrote: Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way.

Jesus’ word “resist” means “violently resist” (do thwart an evildoer, but with non-violent action). The “third way” to respond to injustice is (1) not passivity, (2) not violent opposition, but (3) creative non-violent resistance.

So why the RIGHT cheek? In that day, you couldn’t slap with your left palm—it was “unclean” (no toilet paper). You had to use the back of your right hand to slap the right cheek of the other. 

In the culture of Jesus, people in power could demean you and maintain control by giving you a back-handed slap: husbands over wives, masters over slaves, Roman soldiers over the conquered. By turning the other cheek, you were saying, “If you slap me again with your right palm, you will have to treat me as an equal human.”

To (1) passively take it continues the cycle of abuse. To (2) oppose violently would result in your death. To (3) create a non-violent protest leaves the abuser in a quandary—do I treat you as my equal or leave you alone? Jesus then gives two more illustrations on transforming systems of injustice, and inviting evildoers to become transformed themselves.

Mahatma Gandhi (a student of Jesus), the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (a disciple of Jesus) and countess others have used a variety of creative, non-violent actions to resist evil, transform enemies with love, and change the world.

How have you been taught to interpret “turn the other cheek” in your life? What are the usual results of passivity or violent opposition? How have you been transformed by the actions of another person’s love? In what situations are you called to action to creatively,  non-violently resist an evildoer?

Getting It

Almost all of my childhood and almost every Tuesday, we had a black maid named Pauline clean our home.  Mom would trade days with Pauline’s Friday employer whenever mom prepared for a big cocktail party.  I remember Pauline’s laughter, her chess pie, her discipline, her love, but I don’t remember her crying…. except once.  The second Tuesday of April 1968, I was home from fifth grade watching a long funeral procession on our color TV.    It reminded me of watching a long funeral procession in first grade on our black and white.  Pauline sat with us, shedding so many quiet tears her apron was soaked.  I remember hugging her, but I really didn’t get it.

Twenty years later, the thickest book on my shelf was “A Testament of Hope – The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.”  Unlike too many books around it, I actually read this one — moved by poetic prophetic preaching.  During their annual meeting, the fourth week of April 1988, I was given the Mexico Missouri “NAACP Drum Major for Justice Award”.  Why me?  I didn’t deserve it and I wasn’t even a “C” (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).  When I pointed that out to the leader she said, “Honey, we’re ALL colored by God — there’s just a variety in the complexion.”  I still didn’t get it.

Four years later, the last week of April, my best friend leading youth events was my roomie at a training event at Montreat.  The fact that Keith was African American only mattered when we awoke to the news of riots after the Rodney King verdict and I experienced his reaction.  That night the Montreat community gathered to pray and watch a 16 mm projector film of a speech Martin Luther King, Jr. had given at Montreat.  Maybe I was beginning to get it.

The following December Keith and I were at a national training event in Kansas City for the new “God’s Gift of Human Sexuality” parent and youth curriculum.  After eating with a group at The Plaza, and on the way back to our hotel, I drove Keith to the Alameda Plaza, a ritzy hotel on a hill with an outstanding view of the Plaza Christmas Lights.  As we walked in I said, “We’ll just ride the elevators up to a top floor and look out at all the lights below and come back down.”  Keith said, “I don’t think we should, Wally.”  I said, “O come on, Keith.  It’s great.  Just look like you’re going to your room and catch the view.  I DO IT ALL THE TIME!”  With fear and frustration on his face and in his voice, Keith said, “Obviously you don’t do it in my skin!”  I think I got it.

What is your experience of my story?  Whatever “getting it” means to you, what has helped you or blocked you from “getting it.”

Sit Before You Hit

I learned lessons from Fred Craddock’s book about “Overhearing the Gospel”. Parenting with “Love and Logic” taught me about allowing children to learn by “overhearing a parent’s” conversation.

On my first day of 1997 ski school I overheard the lesson given to the 4 year-olds a few yards away. I thought I should learn from children who could already ski better than I (and who did not have as far to fall in skiing or pride).

I could overhear the preschool-ski teacher ask the crowd of children, “What do we do?” In unison the boys and girls would yell back: “Sit before you hit!! Sit before you hit!!”

If you’re skiing toward a person, tree, or cliff that could be an important lesson to learn. I’ve joined the children’s choir in many ways since that day. For example, I have never regretted NOT sending something I wrote in anger or frustration. I have regretted each time I did. My father’s advice ala “sit before you hit” was “Write your praises and speak your criticisms”.

I don’t remember my adult ski lesson that day so I guess I experienced what I’ve often overheard: “Today, I got more out of the children’s time than the sermon!”

In what ways has the mantra “sit before you hit” helped you in your life? In what ways might you try using this now?

I Don’t Know MLK

My TikTok & Twitch son asked me: “Why would anyone read a blog by an old white guy?” He never let the truth get in the way of my feelings and I never could find a good answer.

Maybe someone wants to hear from a 9-year younger white guy.

While the video is quality is not good, the spirit in the room was incredible when I was invited to speak at our community Martin Luther King Service at Second Baptist Church in 2012.

If you can’t go to a service on Monday, I invite you to listen.